Shaped by a Midwest faith-based work ethic of persistence and determination, Dan Schwala has seen how the patient investment of time, talent and treasure into anything he’s been a part of has often paid off with blessed dividends.
It may start with his professional career as an investment advisor with Morgan Stanley , which sees him up at 3:30 a.m. and at the office before sunrise working for his clients. Add to that his personal and spiritual devotion to his ministerial involvement at his home parish of St. Monica, the outreach of St. Joseph Center in Venice and the Good Shepherd Center in Los Angeles, and his longtime board president leadership at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, and you see just some of the examples of how Schwala’s seed-planting have produced many fruitful harvests.
“My work at Morgan Stanley gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction and gratification helping people meet their goals in life, whether it’s a college education for a newborn child, buying a new home, or even setting up a foundation for philanthropic work in the community,” Schwala says.
“And in some ways, that’s analogous to what goes on with everything else – especially at St. John’s Seminary. You get to see the young men when they enter on Day One, and then seven years later, their ordination is such a profoundly moving experience. It’s a real privilege to get to know them –you’re a witness to their discipleship to Christ through your presence on the board.”
Growing up on a remote Wisconsin dairy farm, Dan attended a one-room country school house from first-to- sixth grade, then graduated from Catholic Central High in Marinette, Wisconsin. He attended the U.S. Military Academy and became a West Point cadet. Transferring to the University of Wisconsin and graduating with a communications degree, Schwala’s journey took him to the MBA program at UCLA’s Graduate School of Management.
Moving to L.A. led to a key turning point in his life – meeting his future spouse, Denise Hart. Journeying with her as her sponsor in the St. Monica RCIA program, Schwala said he “had a re-awakening of my own faith , a rediscovery of my love for the liturgy and our Catholic traditions.”
Inspired by Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson at St. Monica since the early 1980s, Dan and Denise taught Catechism classes and joined the lector program. As part of the revitalization of the church’s Hospitality Ministry, Schwala threw open the doors by inviting everyone to serve, incorporating a deeper foundation in scripture and the joy of the Gospel into the training and volunteering efforts of the hospitality team.
“The Hospitality Ministry became a vehicle for the transformative power of our faith, a great incubator for people to integrate their beliefs and values and weave them into the very fabric of who they are, and then to watch that work its way into all the other parish ministries,” said Schwala.
Denise and he have also put their energy into the St. Joseph Center’s Voices-of-Hope annual gala. Meeting Sr. Mary Jean and Judy Brooks, he became involved in the Cardinal’s Awards Dinner. Through a meeting with Cardinal Roger Mahony, Schwala joined the St. John’s Seminary board and started fund-raising to support a new seminary dorm.
“St. John’s is known as one of the crown jewels of the archdiocese, but for many years it was also one of its best-kept secrets,” said Schwala, who joined the board in 2009. “We raised the seminary’s profile in the five pastoral regions by holding the annual Distinguished Alumni Gala at the Cathedral in downtown LA since 2015.”
Fr. Marco Durazo, the rector at St. John’s since July, 2018, says of Dan that , “He is a man of heart, especially for St. John’s, because he gives all of who he is to help prepare these men,” said Durazo. “I see a spiritual man of prayer who is also inspirational for me as a leader. He gives us all a great example of how a man should be internally, a man of great commitment, not afraid to put his hands in the dirt.”
On a Wisconsin farm, digging into the dirt is just how things get done. “You learn to surrender and give of yourself to do whatever needs to be done,” Schwala says of his commitments to so many projects. “You work with friends in fellowship, trying to be good stewards and disciples of Christ, recognizing every person is Jesus in disguise. Being involved in our projects, programs, and ministries is profoundly important to Denise and me. It’s always been a blessing to be part of something bigger than yourself.”